The US government just released data showing significant increases in the Hispanic, Asian and multiracial populations, making Sheila Marmon’s masterclass particularly timely. Sheila Marmon is the founder and CEO of Mirror Digital, an interactive media and advertising company. She helps Fortune 500 brands tap into the fastest-growing U.S. consumer base - the multicultural market. Sheila has executed over 350 interactive campaigns in this space for clients including General Motors, Universal Pictures, AT&T, Intel and Macy’s. Here she discusses the buying power of the multicultural consumer and best practices for building a relationship with this valuable community.
How would you define multiculturalism?
When we think about multiculturalism now, we look at the three major minority groups, or multicultural groups - African Americans, Asian Americans and Hispanics or Latin X populations. That definition has really become dominant as the shift in the browning and diversification of the United States has evolved. About 40% of the US population is multicultural, 42%, to be precise. If you are looking to grow your business in the United States, you have to think strategically about reaching multicultural consumers, there's just no other way to do it. There are over 140 million people in this country. Hispanic populations are over 18% of the US population, $1.7 trillion in buying power. The African American market is about 13% of the US population, over $1.4 trillion in buying power. Asian Americans are about 6% of the US population, over a trillion dollars in buying power. You are talking about lots of people, lots of opportunities.
In terms of marketing to multicultural consumers, how would you describe their value systems?
There are four core values that we focus on. Four major “wants”.
1) I want to celebrate diversity and my unique cultural heritage community.
2) I want to connect with others who share my values and experiences.
3) I want to easily identify with others within my ethnicity and across hybrid cultural experiences.
4) And last but not least, I want representation. Representation is so important.
This is a group that expects to see themselves seen and reflected as an integral part of the US story and the US mainstream.
Representation is so important. This is a group that expects to see themselves seen and reflected as an integral part of the US story and the US mainstream.
What does it mean to have diversity within diversity?
Multicultural consumers are so rich and robust with unique life experiences, so while we want to classify them and categorize them, we also have to peel back the layers of the onion and understand them as individual segments, in order to really have an impact and connect and engage. A lot of people looking to engage with multicultural consumers will look at the group as a monolith. They are not. You have to look at all sorts of things, such as life stages and passion points.
How do we communicate effectively with multicultural consumers?
The important thing here is we have to think about how they see themselves. Historically, multicultural consumers have been stereotyped and discriminated against in mass media and in mass marketing. So there's a little bit of weariness about how brands engage with them. The messages they hear about their communities do not reflect how they see themselves.
So we have to ask ourselves, how does the multicultural consumer see themselves? Or how does a multicultural consumer want to be seen? How do they want to see themselves from an aspirational perspective? To answer that we have to listen to the consumer. We have to walk in their shoes, kind of literally and figuratively, presenting our message with empathy.
We also need to be mindful about who is doing the engaging and who is doing the talking and believe in the power of diverse voices. We want to put the person from that audience in the driver's seat in terms of driving the message. Having diverse voices speak to diverse consumers is really critical. That can mean targeted websites or podcasts publishing content for diverse consumers. It might be diverse social influencers. What we really want to keep in mind is that connection, and how these diverse voices speak to consumers in a way that is unique and relevant.
How do we gain the support of these consumers?
One thing that is really prevalent with multicultural consumers is that they care about the values behind the companies they support. This has been proven and researched time and time again. If you're going to show up and talk to a multicultural audience, you can't just talk, you have to walk the walk, and they're going to be checking. If you happen to make a misstep, there is the potential for a boycott or getting called out in some way. It's really important to think about, what we want to accomplish by engaging multicultural consumers. And are we being authentic in what we're putting forth?
As you think about engaging multicultural consumers, you really need to work with experts. Obviously, we'd love if you would want to work with us at Mirror Digital. But there are lots of experts who've done this for a long time. Getting assistance with defining your audience, understanding the cultural cues, and really finding the hook, is going to drive results for your campaign and is very, very important. And Mirror Digital is a resource along with many, many others.
I would also question what your team looks like. Do you have people on your team that represent the diverse markets you want to serve? It's really important to think about bringing that expertise in-house and having people who have a seat at the table who can help guide you on this journey because again, it is a journey.
What are your thoughts on brands having a consumer-facing diversity mission statement?
If brands have a consumer-facing diversity mission statement, please be prepared to back that up with a budget and with representation. Multicultural consumers have been savvy on this point for a while. I think now in particular, there is a really heightened sensitivity around this. We're in the next-generation civil rights movement, and the social justice initiatives are so heightened that you have to be really prepared to face a savvy audience - an audience that is not afraid to tell you what they think. In public form, on Instagram, on Facebook and other social media platforms, there are conversations about which brands are real and which are just kind of faking it.
What are your recommendations for smaller businesses with leaner budgets to track and reach efficacy for multicultural audience engagement?
You don't have to be a Fortune 500 company to think about these markets. I think it's figuring out where you can make an investment that makes sense given your scale. And I still think if you don't have expertise within your organization, it is important to bring that expertise in some capacity. And if you can't put an agency on retainer, maybe you can bring in a consultant and have them at least help you set up the strategy for that first leg of the journey. Then you reevaluate, test, verify and keep going.
How do you position this as a value add to companies when multicultural marketing is considered niche?
I think that if people still consider multicultural marketing a niche, they're just uninformed. You're talking about 40% of the population, rising to 50% or more in the next couple of decades. You have to move to where the ball is going. And if you want to have a thriving and successful business in the United States, you just can't justify not paying attention to the multicultural market. It just makes no sense.